All 10 test vehicles – one departing from Palo Alto, California, the others from Dearborn, Michigan – spent much of last November and December winding their way across the United States and Canada. Test drivers searched for every conceivable road condition and highway driving scenario, monitoring the system’s performance, collecting data, and highlighting areas where improvements could be made.
The trip marked the final leg of a development process that ran up more than a half-million miles in a series of shorter test drives, each designed to evaluate a specific aspect of BlueCruise. As real-world validation of those earlier tests, road trip enabled the system to scan for variances in road signage, lane markings, exit ramps, traffic patterns, and weather.
“I drive long-distance quite often, whether out to Boston or down to Florida to visit family or friends, and usually I mentally tire out on drives that far,” said Alexandra Taylor, BlueCruise feature development engineer, who logged more than 3,000 miles in an F-150 on the trek. “The one thing that became clear is that, when using BlueCruise, long drives aren’t nearly as mentally taxing to me.”
Taylor and fellow BlueCruise engineer Shruti Gotadki set out on an eight-day journey that wound through the southeast United States, targeting driving differences between Jacksonville, Louisville, Atlanta, and other major urban areas.
Back at the Ford lab, driver-assist technology supervisor Justin Teems monitored the progress of the entire fleet, corralling important data that will help shape BlueCruise driving experience in the months and years ahead.
“It was like mission control,” Teems said. “We really wanted to push BlueCruise to its limits. Every state builds roads a little differently. When you include factors like lane line degradation, weather, and construction, building a hands-free driving system becomes extremely complex. Those complexities are why Ford has the best team of engineers in the world working on it.”
Using both advanced camera and radar-sensing technologies and building upon Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane Centering and Speed Sign Recognition, BlueCruise adds a new level of convenience for drivers with vehicles equipped with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology. The feature allows a driver to operate truly hands-free on prequalified sections of divided highways called Hands-Free Blue Zones. A driver-facing camera in the instrument cluster monitors eye gaze and head position to help ensure the driver’s eyes remain on the road.
Currently, more than 100,000 miles of highways across North America are dedicated Hands-Free Blue Zones in the Ford GPS mapping system. BlueCruise uses blue lighting on the digital instrument cluster to indicate when the vehicle is in a hands-free zone.
In addition to the full hands-free mode, equipped vehicles will also feature Lane Centering mode. Lane Centering works on most roads with lane lines and can help keep the vehicle centered in its lane but requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. In either mode, a visual prompt on the instrument cluster notifies drivers when they need to return their attention to the road or resume control of the vehicle.
BlueCruise is an SAE Level 2 driver-assist technology, similar to Tesla Autopilot but with the advantage of offering a true hands-free driving experience while in Hands-Free Mode that does not require a driver’s hands to stay in contact with the steering wheel, unless prompted by vehicle alerts.
And unlike other approaches – such as GM’s Super Cruise, which uses red and green lighting, or Tesla’s Autopilot, which requires a driver keep their hands on the steering wheel – BlueCruise communicates with drivers in different ways. The instrument cluster transitions to communicate that the feature is in Hands-Free mode through text and blue lighting cues, effective even for those with color blindness.
2021 F-150 and 2021 Mustang Mach-E customers will be able to purchase BlueCruise software – including a three-year service period – for $600 in the second half of 2021, when it’s ready to launch. Hardware pricing varies by vehicle. For F-150, BlueCruise is available as a part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package for a total of $1,595 – $600 for the software and $995 for the hardware. The Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package is standard on F-150 Limited and available as an option on Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models. For Mustang Mach-E, BlueCruise comes standard on CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition variants. It’s an available package on the Select trim for $3,200 – $ 600 for the software and $2,600 for the rest of the package – as part of the larger Comfort and Technology package, which includes features such as a 360-degree camera, heated front seats, and heated steering wheel.